Dragon Fantasy: The Black Tome of Ice (DF) is a fantastic JRPG-style game that strikes many wonderful nostalgic feelings. I absolutely love this game. I got the definitive, physical version of it from Limited Run games for the PS4 and blasted through the whole game in a few sittings on a weekend while sick. It was a perfect way to spend the weekend. DF is a game that does little to advance the genre and be unique, but it uses many solid, refined mechanics through the years of feedback provided to 16-bit RPGs. It borrows and references heavily, which is what makes the game so enchanting and wonderful. Not every game needs to be innovative. DF does perfectly borrowing from solid titles and presenting itself in its own adventure that has enough merit to stand on its own. Knowledge of references can make things more exciting, but they aren’t necessary at all. Let’s go through what makes DF so wonderful and let you know why any classic RPG fan should log on to the PS4 and get the best version of the game right now.
There are several elements that make an RPG of utmost quality: story, characters, battle system, levelling, environment and music. I am sure any RPG fan has played RPGs where some elements are prevalent while others are missing and still enjoyed the experience. Grandia II is a perfect example for me, where I hated the characters and I didn’t care for the music or story, but I loved the battle and levelling systems, as well as the locations visited. I beat the game and will gladly do so again one day. Chrono Trigger is an example of a game where every element is present and the game is exceptional for it. I don’t think anyone would argue that Grandia II is better than Chrono Trigger. Why do I bring this up? Well, DF borrows (pays tribute, references, etcetera; whatever synonym you want to use) from all sorts of games where each of those components are done exceptionally well, while creating its own world to present them in (I won’t mention every reference because they are numerous and I am not sure which are direct references and which are references to mechanics in the genre as a whole). Let’s go through each aforementioned component and see what makes this game so great.
The story is as old as storytelling itself I am sure. An unlikely hero emerges from the shadows and is tasked with the very simple job of saving the world, that lovely standard stuff. While doing so, the game uses humor to poke fun of itself, the genre telling that same story time and time again, as well as making just general jokes along the way. This short journey allows enough time to go beyond just making light of the genre with its own story development and branching paths that make you really get a feel for each of the characters at a natural pace, all while not being obnoxious about it. There is enough dialogue to let you get a sense of the world and how it functions, but not so much that you feel that you have to scroll through walls of text because it’s trying to get too ‘deep’ or something like that. It strikes that perfect balance in a succinct time. I was able to do everything in the game in around 13 hours, which is perfect. I got my satisfaction of ending a journey and being the hero without having to sink in 100+ hours, like with many RPGs. This is exactly why I love games like Suikoden and Chrono Trigger so much. You get the RPG fix in a concise timeframe (I especially appreciate going to the last castle and not having the last-minute padding spike in difficulty and length that many RPGs have).
I absolutely love the characters. They stand on their own merit but can be further appreciated with knowledge of what they’re referencing. Whether it be the wizard trying to cast a magic with meteors like with Tellah in Final Fantasy II (I played it on the SNES and it says II on it, so get over it) or the rock man named Wily, I absolutely love the diversity of this cast. They all have their own strengths that allow you to play the game the way you want since you have such flexibility with who you take on your journey (aside from the few moments where certain characters are forced upon you, like in any character-story-driven RPG). I especially love the ability to capture so many monsters like in Dragon Quest V. This openness is greatly appreciated as it really enhances the experience and also encourages multiple playthroughs as the player has the flexibility to play this shorter game with different play styles and experience things in new ways each time.
The battle system and levelling are very similar to that of Chrono Trigger (aside from the multiple-character attacks). So fans of that game should feel right at home here. Everything is super intuitive and very fun. You are able to level up and go full-on tank mode, or have a support and assault system of magic to turn the tides of battle, the choice is up to you and things couldn’t be more approachable for you to do so. There is no cumbersome innovation like with a game like Natural Doctrine, things feel just right here. Don’t fix what isn’t broken; DF uses an extremely polished system to make combat ever-so satisfying. It even includes a difficulty adjustment for those who like experiencing RPGs in different ways.
I absolutely love the range of locations that are visited in this game. There’s everything from haunted pirate ships, to cold forests, to tropical islands and volcanoes, all with wonderful music to match. The music fits each locale perfectly and there are even some tracks that are a pleasure to listen to outside of the context of the game. And with overworld that is reminiscent of the Mode 7 RPG lands of the days of the SNES, you truly feel like you’ve gone on a grand adventure. Everything just feels right and really makes you feel like you’re playing a classic RPG for the first time.
There’s a brief overview as to why classic RPG fans should be getting this game on the PS4 right now (it’s on other consoles as well, but I understand this is the definitive version of the game). It does little in the realms of innovation, but excels in making a familiar, yet fresh, solid RPG to sink your teeth into. I highly recommend you check out Dragon Fantasy, it truly is a wonderful game that I look forward to playing again.
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